Report Documents Extensive Abuse in Colorado Juvenile Jails
by Andy Jones
March 21, 2017
The Colorado Child Safety Coalition released an extensive new report [PDF] and video, March 2, uncovering extensive use of dangerous practices regularly used by the Division of Youth Correction Services against youth in the state’s juvenile facilities.
“Despite assurances from top DYC officials that the Division was moving away from the use of pain compliance, isolation and the WRAP, we learned that these punitive practices are still commonly used,” said Mark Ivandick, managing attorney of Disability Law Colorado, in a news release. “Young people with mental illness and other disabilities are overrepresented in DYC and are disproportionately experiencing these atrocities.
“This must stop. Action must be taken to ensure that DYC’s culture matches its rhetoric of providing trauma-informed, rehabilitative care."
Colorado is one of two states that continues to use a full-body straight jacket, known as the WRAP, as a form of punishment in all of its juvenile jail facilities, sometimes for hours. The practice is widely considered a form of torture by human rights advocates.
Youth in the facilities are also allegedly subjected to “pain compliance,” where staff strike them in certain nerve points, to enforce discipline. Other students interviewed by the Coalition reported that staff regularly used “knee strikes” and that they had experienced rug burns after being dragged on a carpet.
Solitary confinement is also widely used in the facilities, even against students with mental illness or who have experienced suicidal thoughts.
“Kids incarcerated in Colorado are in crisis. Staff members strike, isolate, and bind children, making DYC facilities unsafe spaces for both staff and youth,” said Rebecca T. Wallace, staff attorney with the ACLU of Colorado, in the news release, and in a tv report on Denver 7. “For the sake of Colorado’s kids and staff, it is time to transform DYC’s punitive and broken culture into one of rehabilitation and hope.”
The Coalition recommends banning WRAP, pain compliance practice, leg irons and wrist restraints, and any physical contact between staff and youth where there is no threat to self or others. It is also calling for an end of the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary technique and de-escalation training to prevent the need for such restraints and forms of violence.
Along with Disability Law Colorado and the ACLU of Coloroado, the Coalition includes the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender and the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center.
Disability Law Colorado and Disability Rights Washington are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Colorado and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.